New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: Revolution vs. Earthquakes

Revolution center back Stephen McCarthy displays the Revolution's original jersey following training on Thursday. (Photo: Brian O'Connell)

Revolution center back Stephen McCarthy displays the Revolution’s original jersey following training on Thursday. (Photo: Brian O’Connell)

Following Saturday’s Revolution-Earthquakes game, fans and random onlookers will be treated to what promises to be a brilliant fireworks display at Gillette Stadium. But, alas, they’ll be deprived of what would truly make Saturday’s match memorable: Throwback jerseys.

In 1996, the original incarnation of the New England Revolution donned what might be the most patriotic jersey ever worn in MLS.  Yes, it wasn’t as timeless or as grand as Old Glory herself, but those gradient streaks of red, white and blue, were something to behold. They were brash. They were fun. And, tragically, they were gone after one season.

At time, the critics hailed “good riddance” in unison. They panned the ’96 Revolution jersey, and pretty much every other original club’s jersey at the time. They called them garish and unsightly, a product of a design group that didn’t understand the sport. That may be true, until you consider what some EPL sides were wearing not long before the league’s launch.

The ’96 jersey conjures up images of a heady time in American soccer, and more specifically, top-flight soccer in New England. Years had passed since the Tea Men, Minutemen and Astros all streaked across the sky, with neither sticking around long enough to establish roots or tradition. The Revolution, as we learned over the years, were here to stay.

So why not take a moment – better yet, or 90 minutes – to remember a bold time for New England soccer? On the most patriotic weekend of the year, why not have the aptly-monikered Revolution don the same jersey worn by their ambitious predecessors? Not for an entire season, but rather, just one night.

Saturday’s fireworks will be wonderful, and they’ll be especially appropriate if the Revolution grab three points in advance. But, can we all agree that a visual tip of the cap to the ’96 club would make for a memorable evening? Heck, it might even bring a tear to Alexi Lalas’ eyes.

Before lighting the fuse on our weekly set of questions, we’d like to wish everyone a safe and fun-filled Fourth of July weekend. Go out there and enjoy the spectacular weather that only a New England summer could bring.

1. What changes, if any, does Jay Heaps make to the attacking portion of his starting XI from last week’s 1-1 draw? If you look at the numbers alone, the offense put together a pretty good showing against the Goats. But if you look at the game film itself, the reality isn’t as rosy. Jerry Bengtson’s form flickered at times in the second half, then predictably faded. Saer Sene found a few passing lanes, but couldn’t find enough room to orchestrate a killer pass or a dynamic run. Ditto for Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe. This week, the challenges posed to the offense will be quite different with San Jose in town. Although their defense isn’t what you’d call “great,” or even “good” on some nights, there’s no way the likes of Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca and Shea Selinas lift the gate near the halfway line the way the Goats did last week. In light of that, it might make sense to employ a good holdup striker, and starting Chad Barrett over Bengtson could sharpen the attack. Aside from that switch, no other changes should be necessary, barring injuries.

2. Without Chris Wondolowski or Marvin Chavez, who must the defense keep tabs on especially? Our first nominee has to be Alan Gordan, that crafty veteran who’s rediscovering the form that helped catapult the Quakes to a Supporters’ Shield Trophy last season. Indeed, it might be a good idea to monitor every move a guy with three goals in his last two makes. Then there’s Adam Jahn, who looked really, really good in the earlier part of the season, only to see his form fade as Gordon’s re-emerged. But the Revolution can’t sleep on Jahn, who may not have scored since early-May, but has ripped a number of shots on goal since. Meanwhile, the Revolution wingbacks must be aware of their counterparts, as Steve Beitashour and Justin Morrow have been creating havoc and headaches for opposing defenses. San Jose XI may resemble a reserve unit in many respects, but they still have enough weapons to keep the Revolution defense on alert.

3. Is Saer Sene ready to return to the scoresheet? If there’s a game in which a goal would go along way, well, Saturday’s is as good as any. First and foremost, with Juan Agudelo out for the foreseeable future, the Revolution absolutely need last year’s leading scorer to step up and find the back of the net. Although Heaps has primarily employed him as a wide player this year, the French forward is still finding plenty of chances, even if his declaration of being a striker is falling upon deaf ears. Second, San Jose’s defense – a defense without Victor Bernardez, who’s suspension expires after the game – is guilty of giving up goals galore, with five goals allowed in their last two games. Then, of course, is the transfer talk, which Sene is finding himself at the center of thanks to interest from his native France. What better way to boost the asking price than by scoring goals? Taking all these factors into account, you can’t help but think that Sene is salivating at the opportunity before him on Saturday.

4. With all three defensive midfielders presumably healthy, who should get the start? It may be hard to believe, but here we are, on the eve of the middle of the season. The games, from here on out, start to become more important. And to that end, the Revolution can’t afford to rely on luck, which essentially speared them a point last week against Chivas. No, they must become savvier and more attuned to what they need to do to win games. Not draw, but win. Last year, we saw Clyde Simms admirably attempt to take over the holding role after Shalrie Joseph was traded, but the boat sank shortly thereafter. Scott Caldwell has performed well enough to earn a slew of starts this season, and it’s a credit to him that rookie’s shown himself capable of manning such a high-pressure position. But big money players show up in big games. Or at least they should. It’s hard to say what Heaps’ opinion about his most expensive player is, but these final 18 games demand Kalifa Cisse’s presence. Although injuries and poor form have cast him as an afterthought for much of the first half, now is the time for Cisse to show his worth. During the offseason, Heaps mentioned that one of the things that befell his club last season was lack of leadership during the homestretch. Well, the homestretch isn’t too far away, and Cisse can’t lead from the bench.

5. Can the Revolution take advantage of a weary and call-up depleted San Jose? If they have any ambitions of clearing sixth place, they have to. You have to think that, Agudelo’s injury aside, the Revolution could not have asked for a better time to face the Quakes. Yes, San Jose isn’t going to roll over and put out their paw for a handshake. No, they’re better than that, and they showed that by nearly eking out a point from the Fire without Wondolowski, Chavez, Selinas and Bernardez. But at the end of a three-game, eight-day itinerary, Saturday’s game should mean three points or bust for the Revolution. After all, they’ve had a full-week of rest, they’re at home, nearly everyone is healthy and, as noted above, it’s the Fourth of July Weekend for crying out loud. A team that calls itself the New England Revolution should never lose on the most patriotic weekend of the year. But in all seriousness, if the Revolution can’t find a way to win on Saturday, then the second half of the season looks bleak, my friends.

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